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Few expected the San Francisco 49ers to make the run they did through the 2011 season, but they did, and by bringing back 21 of 22 starters, the team is loaded for another run.
The rest of the NFC West is full of question-mark teams who will need big breakout seasons to stop the loaded Niners.
San Francisco 49ers**
Predicted Record: 12-4
Preseason expectations are high, and the 49ers have the talent on defense to be the best in the game.
The question mark is on offense, where newcomers Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins will be asked to revitalize a boring passing attack from 2011.
Predicted Record: 9-7
Depending on how the quarterback battle between Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson plays out, the Seahawks could be wild-card contenders or bottom-feeders. The defense will keep Seattle competitive, but if the quarterback play isn't improved, Seattle will again be on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
St. Louis Rams
Predicted Record: 6-10
Sam Bradford will be better this year, but Jeff Fisher's team isn't quite playoff-ready. The Rams' front seven on defense should be very stout, and additions to the secondary through free agency and the draft will help, but the Rams lack a No. 1 receiver and are relying on a patchwork offensive line to get the job done.
Predicted Record: 5-11
The Cardinals aren't expected to do much this season, and rightfully so. The O-line is flat-out bad, and the quarterback battle between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton is less than inspiring.
The pieces are there for Arizona to build a winner, but it has to fix its issues on offense first.
** Division Winner, First-Round Playoff Bye